War and the Muses - Dead Drummer Boy
Until the eve of the twentieth century armies often went into battle with flags flying and drums rolling. And the drums were often played by boys, occasionally as young as ten. The life of a drummer boy appeared glamorous to some, and during the Civil War quite a number of young fellows – and apparently even a few gals – ran off to join the armies. Some attained a measure of fame, such as John Clem, “The Drummer Boy of Shiloh” and “The Drummer Boy of Chickamauga,” who retired from active military service in 1916 as a major general. But most had a hard life in ranks, and many met death in action.
Despite the harsh realities of war, the romantic image of the drummer boy persisted, as can be seen by this bit of American verse that appeared during the Civil War.
The Dead Drummer Boy
Midst tangled roots that lined the wild ravine,
Where the fierce fight raged hottest through the day,
And where the dead in scattered heaps were seen
Amid the darkling forest's shade and sheen
Speechless in death he lay.
The setting sun which glanced athwart the place,
In slanting lines, like amber-tinted rain
Fell sidewise on the drummer's upturned face,
Where Death had left his gory finger's trace
In one bright crimson stain.
The silken fringes of his once-bright eye
Lay like a shadow on his cheek so fair;
His lips were parted by a long-drawn sigh,
That with his soul had mounted to the sky
On some wild martial air.
No more his hand the fierce tattoo shall beat;
The shrill reveille, or the long roll's call,
Or sound the charges, when, in smoke and heat
Of fiery onset, foe with foe shall meet,
And gallant men shall fall.
Yet may be in some happy home, that one,
A mother, reading from some list of dead,
Shall chance to view the name of her dead son,
And move her lips to say, "God's will be done!"
And bow in grief her head.
But more than this what tongue shall tell his story?
Perhaps his boyish longings were for fame.
He lived, he died; and so memento mori.
Enough if on the page of War and Glory,
Some hand has writ his name.